NFC East Divisional Breakdown: Prescott leads the Cowboys over Wentz and the Eagles
Dak Prescott, Saquon Barkley, Carson Wentz. Just some of the names that come to mind when thinking about the NFC East. In a division that has mostly disappointed the last couple of years, minus Philly’s Super Bowl win, of course, I’ll give me input on who I see coming out of the division in 2020.
As usual, my predictions take into account the odds and win projections for each team, and the moves that each franchise made during the offseason.
|Team||Odds to win Division||Win Totals||2019 Record||2019 PF||2019 PA||DIFF|
|Cowboys||-105||9.5||8 W 8 L||385||321||31|
|Eagles||+140||9.5||9 W 7 L||434||354||113|
|Giants||+900||6.5||7 W 9 L||341||451||-110|
|Redskins||+1300||5.5||5 W 11 L||266||435||-169|
1. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys continued disappoint in 2019, finishing with an 8-8 record and failed to make the playoffs. Dallas continues to stockpile talent on their roster only to disappoint fans with their results. The team has made the playoffs only three times since 2010 and has failed to make it past the divisional round. In 2020, I expect much more from the Cowboys, as they’ve brought in a new head coach in Mike McCarthy and have made some impressive moves in the draft and free agency. Experts have Dallas as the clear favorite out of the NFC East (-105) and project them to win 9.5 games. With the new additions to an already uber-talented team, I believe that Dallas can outplay their win projections and make a deep playoff run.
In 2019, the Cowboys finished in the top 10 in both points scored and allowed, averaging 27.1 PPG while giving up 20.1 PPG to their opponents. They ranked 6th in scoring and 9th in opponent scoring per contest. A large part of Dallas’ success on offense was due to quarterback Dak Prescott. In his fourth NFL season, Prescott posted career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. Prescott compiled 4,902 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
On the ground, Dallas was elite again in 2019, finishing 4th in rush yards per game (134.6). Running back Ezekiel Elliot was a large part of their success on the ground, as he rushed for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns. The star running back also recorded 54 catches for 420 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not only do the Cowboys have an excellent running back, but they also possess the league’s 4th best offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. The unit is headlined by perennial Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith and Zach Martin, and emerging tackle, La’el Collins. My only concern with this group is the gaping hole left by All-Pro Travis Frederick, who retired in the offseason due to complications from Guillain-Barré syndrome. With that being said, Dallas is one of the few teams in the NFL with three Pro=Bowl caliber offensive lineman.
Defensively, Dallas was impressive in 2019, finishing in the top 10 in passing and rushing yards per game allowed. The defense is headlined by linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, and defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence and Gerald McCoy. In free agency, the team added McCoy and former teammate Dontari Poe to form what should be one of the best defensive lines in 2020. Losing corner Byron Jones hurts, but Dallas managed to re-sign starter Anthony Brown (CB) and brought in former Packer Haha Clinton-Dix on a 1-year deal. Dallas also added former Alabama corner Trevon Diggs in the 2nd round of the draft, who should be a day 1 starter in the Cowboy secondary. On offense, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Dak Prescott but agreed to a 5-year extension with star wideout Amari Cooper. They added to their offensive arsenal by selecting Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb in the 1st round of the draft. The addition of Lamb gives Dallas an excellent receiver corps, as he joins Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup to form one of the best trios in the NFL.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
After winning the Super Bowl in 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles again disappointed in 2019. The team finished with a 9-7 record and was decimated by injuries across the board. Philly returns most of its roster from 2019 and should surprise many fans this season as they’ve become somewhat of an afterthought after their disappointing 2019 season. They have the second-best odds to win the division (+140), but I believe that they’re not that far behind Dallas. The team is full of proven veterans and has a great Head Coach in Doug Peterson. I wouldn’t rule out the Eagles to upset the Cowboys in taking the division crown this season.
If the Eagles had just stayed healthy last season, their fortunes would have been much different from what happened. Philly ranked 15th in scoring and points allowed in 2019, a ranking that’s surprising considering the turnover that the team endured last season. They also ranked 3rd in rushing yards per game, allowing 88.6 yards a game to opposing teams. The only knock defensively on this group is in the secondary, as the team surrendered 246.1 passing yards per contest, good for 22nd in the NFL.
Injuries plagued the team last season, but mainly on offense. Their top two receivers, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery missed a combined thirteen games in 2019. Jackson sustained a core muscle injury in Week 2 and never recovered. While Jeffery has been productive when healthy, he hasn’t played a full season in two years. The losses of Jeffery and Jackson profoundly affected quarterback Carson Wentz’s performance in 2019. After posting back-to-back years with at least a 100.0 passer rating, Wentz posted the worst rating (93.1) since his rookie season in 2016. Wentz wasn’t terrible though, throwing for 4,039 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Imagine the numbers he could’ve produced had his two best receivers been healthy last season.
Jackson and Jeffery aren’t the only weapons Wentz has at his disposal, as they have one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Zach Ertz. Ertz has produced at least 70 receptions in the last five seasons and is Wentz’s favorite target on many occasions. In 2019 he led the Eagles in receiving, recording 88 receptions for 916 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ertz’s production was outstanding, considering the tight end received double and sometimes triple-coverage for most of the season. Out of the backfield, Philly has a dynamic, young running back in Miles Sanders and a terrific offensive line to protect Wentz. In 2019, Sanders rushed for 818 yards and3 touchdowns despite only starting 11 of the team’s 16 games. He should be in for an uptick in usage this season.
In the offseason, the Eagles made a series of good moves to add to an already talented roster. They added former Charger LB Jatavis Brown and nose tackle Javon Hargrave upfront. The two will be added to an impressive front seven that already features Pro-Bowlers Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, as well as emerging pass-rusher Derek Barnett. In the secondary, one of Philadelphia’s most pressing needs, the Eagles traded for Pro-Bowl corner Darius Slay and former Ram Nickell Robey-Coleman. They also resigned starting safeties Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod. In the draft, Philly gave Wentz another weapon when they selected TCU’s Jalen Reager with the 21st pick in the draft. Reagor could start right away in the slot and has impressive speed on the edge that should open things up for the Eagles’ passing game.
3. New York Giants
Although not in a place to win the division, I believe that the Giants could be one of the NFL’s most surprising teams in 2019, given the additions they made to their roster in the offseason. Coming off a 7-9 campaign, the Giants look to build on an impressive rookie season from quarterback Daniel Jones. With another step in the right direction, the team hired former New England assistant John Judge who I think can take this team to a new level in 2020 and beyond.
Collectively, the organization is headed in the right direction, as the team has shown improvement throughout the last couple of seasons. In 2019, New York finished 19th in scoring per game but 30th in points allowed per game. The G-men looked to have found stability at the quarterback position, as Daniel Jones showed flashes of why the Giants took him in the first round last year. Jones finished his rookie campaign with 3,027 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Take into account that he only started twelve games last season as he began to the 2019 season as Eli Manning’s backup.
The Giants should have a ton of weapons at Jones’ disposal in 2020 and should finish better than 19th in scoring this season. They have a generational running back with Saquon Barkley, who had his 2nd consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 8 total touchdowns. Many experts around the NFL consider Barkley to be in the discussion for best running back in the league. Barkley runs behind an offensive line ranked 17th by Pro Football Focus, which should continue to get better in 2020. The group is comprised of veterans Nate Solder and Kevin Zeitler, center Spencer Pulley, guard Will Hernandez, and rookie Andrew Thomas. Thomas was the fourth player taken in the draft and looks to be a cornerstone for the franchise moving forward. On the outside, the Giants have several capable pass-catchers in Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram. The three combined for around 1,500 receiving yards in 2019 and should continue to develop chemistry with Daniel Jones.
On defense, the Giants were atrocious in 2019, ranking 30th in points allowed per game. While former 1st round corner DeAndre Baker struggled mightily last season, the team added James Bradberry in free agency on a 3-year contract. Bradberry has eight total interceptions in his four-year career and should add a nice boost to a secondary that already has safety Jabrill Peppers. The team also agreed to a 3-year deal with linebacker Blake Martinez, who has made at least 140 tackles for three consecutive seasons. The Giants also got tremendous value in the draft, adding Alabama’s Xavier McKinney with the 4th pick in the second round. Heading into the draft, McKinney was ranked as the 17th overall player before the Giants stole him at the beginning of the second round. Together, McKinney and Peppers could be one of the best safety tandems in the NFL.
4. Washington Redskins
In 2019, the Redskins were a mess, and have been so for the past decade or so. Washington finished with a 5-11 record last season, tied for 3rd-worst in the NFL. If anything, the best thing to happen for the Redskins was obtaining the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft. The team has been in constant dysfunction but looks to be headed in the right direction after hiring for Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
There were a few bright spots to Washington’s season in 2019. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin had an impressive season, compiling 58 receptions for 919 yards and 7 touchdowns. On defense, rookie DE Montez Sweat recorded 50 tackles and 7 sacks in 2019. The two rookies look to be a big part of Washington’s future.
In the offseason, management finally moved on from Jay Gruden and replaced him with Ron Rivera. Rivera brings a winning pedigree and much-needed toughness to the organization. Stability and confidence could be crucial to Washington’s success, as quarterback Dwayne Haskins was thrust into action last season, where he struggled mightily. Washington’s offseason was headlined by the selection of pass-rusher Chase Young, who has all the tools to become one of the best defensive players in NFL history. In his three seasons at Ohio State, Young recorded 40.5 tackles for loss and 30.5 sacks. He was widely regarded as the best prospect in the last half-decade, and the Redskins selected him 2nd overall.
The addition of Young gives Washington an imposing front 7, and similar to how the Panthers built their roster under the defensive-minded Rivera. Along with Young, the Redskins now have Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Reuben Foster, and Thomas Davis Sr. The group should see an improvement against the run in 2020, as they ranked 30th in opponent rushing yards per game last season.